Doublelift’s Flash. Fervor Leona. Five-minute Paranoia. Ruler’s chains. Faker’s tears.
These are the indelible moments of Worlds 2017, the images we’ll remember as the tournament fades further in the rear-view mirror. The momentary misposition that torpedoes a lead. The gamble that pays off. The joy of well-earned success, and the pain of ruing what could have been.
This was the first Worlds I covered as a writer. It won’t be my last. I’m a relative newcomer to the professional scene, with initial doubts as to whether a game as esoteric as League of Legends could deliver the thrills of traditional sports. Would watching Team SoloMid make it out of groups feel the same as Landon Donovan catapulting the US Men’s National Team into the knockout stage of World Cup 2010? Would an Ace feel like a touchdown? Would a Triple Kill have the same impact as a slam dunk?
I shouldn’t have worried. Watching Gigabyte Marines nearly upset Longzhu Gaming in Week 2 of groups, living and dying with every late game team fight, praying that the underdog Vietnamese side could do the unthinkable, barely able to follow the action through my shaking fingers, I had my answer. Only sport can make you feel this way.
Before we fully turn our attention to Runes Reforged and Season 8—not to mention Free Agency and NA LCS franchising—let’s take a moment to reflect on the culmination of Season 7 with the ten best games at Worlds 2017.
Play-In Honorable Mentions
Young Generation vs Fnatic – Game 2
Cloud9 vs. Lyon Gaming – Game 2
For many, Riot’s experiment with the Worlds Play-In Stage—a change from the separate Wildcard tournament—was a waste of time. The games were low quality and noncompetitive, they said. And who knew any of the players, or the regions they came from?
I wasn’t one of these people. True, there were at times significant gaps in power level (still looking at you, Rampage). Concepts like wave control or clean objective secures often felt unrefined. The major region seeds faced little adversity, with three out of four easily qualifying for the main event. Luck seemed to play an outsized role, with 1907 Fenerbahçe’s run more a function of their draw and less as a result of being the best emerging region team.
But if Riot’s goal is to grow the minor regions through fan attention, branding the Wildcard tournament with the Worlds moniker was the correct choice. Audiences that rarely get to see these leagues received a brief glimpse of their stars and meta. The GPL, CBLOL, LAN and TCL (to name a few) got to show their quality against the best, maybe attracting a few new eyeballs to their domestic play in 2018. And everyone who participated got to say they played at Worlds, which helps better differentiate teams and players for exposure/salary considerations going forward.
These honorable mention games best embody the spirit of the play-ins, with two underdog teams from emerging regions giving everything they had against superior competition. Two thrilling clashes demonstrated that, while the gap between Korea and the Rest of the World might not be closing as fast as we’d like, certain minor regions aren’t far from major status.
Cloud9 waltzed through the play-ins undefeated, but got much more than they bargained for against a Lyon Gaming side anyone would have enjoyed watching at the main event. Young Generation’s upset of future quarterfinalists Fnatic was a sign to any and all that Vietnam is prepared to make international noise for years to come. It wouldn’t be the last time Fnatic lost to a VCSA team at Worlds 2017.
The Real List
10. 1907 Fenerbahçe Espor vs. Samsung Galaxy – Game 1
Maybe the gap between the Rest of the World and Korea is closing…
1907 Fenerbahçe didn’t win a game at the main event. They looked helpless against Royal Never Give Up, and couldn’t beat G2 Esports in a meaningless game with Perkz on Yasuo. But Samsung Galaxy, the eventual champions, were caught underestimating their wildcard opponents in Week 1 of group play. A loss here could have ended their title run before it began.
SSG farmed a solid three thousand gold lead off the back of Haru’s early game aggression on Ezreal. But Frozen, who had spent all of Season 6 as a Longzhu player, wasn’t going to let his former organization off easy. Buoyed by a late game composition headlined by Crash’s Sejuani, Frozen unleashed the only Ekko of Worlds 2017, hoping to recapture the magic conjured against Hong Kong Attitude in the play-ins.
1907 Fenerbahçe found themselves up over six thousand gold after 45 minutes, but never could break the SSG base when they had complete map control. It came down to a 5v5 around the Baron pit, and I’ll just leave this here:
Trigger Warning for Cloud9 fans who still suffer Zhoyna’s PTSD after Spring Finals: Be advised that the end of this match contains upsetting content.
9. Immortals vs Fnatic – Game 1
Rest in Peace, Immortals. That phrase will never make sense, or feel right.
Immortals’ first and last run at Worlds 2017 will be remembered by most for Cody Sun’s betrayal of Xmithie in Week 2 against Fnatic. Not me. Like a mourner at a wake, I choose to celebrate the good times, not pile on the bad.
Immortals 2-1 Week 1 was highlighted by their marathon win over Fnatic, a game both teams threw at least once. North America’s second seed had clearly watched a lot of Longzhu games while bootcamping in Korea, relying on Flame’s are-you-Khan-in-disguise Jayce top to carry via split push. With Xmithie devoted to solo lane vertical jungling, Cody Sun and Olleh were left to fend for themselves, never a good option against Rekkles and Jesiz.
Barons were traded, including the best Realm Warp Baron secure of the tournament. Team fights were won, then lost, then won again. But if you show me a Twitch in Act I, he’d better go off by Act III. Rekkles knew the script, but Pobelter’s crucial Zhonya’s down the stretch was a twist he didn’t expect. Fnatic would have better days in China, but this is as good as it got for Immortals.
8. Royal Never Give Up vs Samsung Galaxy – Game 1
Ever since Season 3, Korean teams have been a monolith in competitive League of Legends. Their coordination, discipline, control, and synergy have so often prevailed that betting against them is usually a fool’s errand.
But no one told Royal Never Give Up that they were supposed to lose. The only all-Chinese team at China’s world championship, Royal went 2-for-2 against Samsung Galaxy in Group C play, the only team to defeat Samsung more than once. They dazzled the home fans with high-tempo team fighting comps designed to exploit the super-human talents of Uzi, one of the best AD carries in the world.
The composition RNG drafted this game (Galio/Jarvan IV/Syndra/Tristana/Janna) should've never happened on 7.18. There’s just too much engage, tankiness, sustain, and burst damage for SSG to have any chance. RNG’s global presence and crucial game-long defense of their mid outer turret kept Samsung from gaining a vision foothold on the map, and once the Galio/J4/Syndra wombo found Ruler’s Twitch late, it was all over. An incredibly well played game by the class of China.
7. SK Telecom T1 v Royal Never Give Up – Game 5
Most neutrals (and tournament organizers) were crossing their fingers for a Korea/China final at the Bird’s Nest. Instead, they had to settle for two semifinals…and that wasn’t so bad.
The five-game heavyweight bout between SK Telecom T1 and Royal Never Give Up had the feel of a final (Caster Jun helps), with two storied organizations jockeying for a flight to Bejing. Propelled by an ecstatic Shanghai crowd, RNG seemed to have SKT’s number, going up 2-1 after three games.
But the three-time defending champions would not be denied, culminating in Faker’s fifth straight carry-Galio game. MLXG needed to be far more aggressive on Lee Sin to justify the pick; the blind bruiser doesn’t scale well from behind, and he was behind all game. When SKT banned Leona and Nocturne in phase two, you knew they had RNG out-drafted. It’s a shame Silver Scrapes didn't herald a more energetic game, but finale of a series this competitive deserved a spot here. Flawed as SKT were at Worlds 2017, it was still a feat to beat RNG in a Game 5 on the road.
6. Gigabyte Marines vs Longzhu Gaming – Game 2
In any contest, regardless of sport or competition, fans tend to root for the underdog. They’re eager to be surprised, to be inspired by an unlikely result that proves anything is possible, odds be damned. An underdog's victory is a vicarious win for everyone who ever hoped for something better.
But part of the reason underdogs resonate so deeply is because they’re exceptional in the etymological sense; they’re exceptions to the rule. Usually, the favored side wins as expected. Sometimes David beats Goliath and everyone celebrates, but more often than not, Goliath kills David after David after David.
I have never, in years of watching professional esports, wanted an underdog to win as badly as I wanted Gigabyte Marines to beat Longzhu Gaming. It was already an enticing matchup; the best minor region team pitted against the best major region team. Then, in a roll of all the dice, GAM picked Rengar and Ziliean! Are you kidding me? As Dash rightly said, “How can you not fall in love with this team?”
At one point, Marines were up over ten thousand gold and two inhibitors to the good. They were in the Longzhu base. Levi and Noway had ascended to godhood. They’d basically won…and then one lost team fight changed everything. Pray, in his best game of the tournament, brought Longzhu back from the brink in fight after careful fight. Slowly, the dream bled out. I’ll never forget this game.
5. Samsung Galaxy vs Longzhu Gaming – Game 1
Samsung Galaxy’s inability to defeat Royal Never Give Up in group play earned them the second seed in Group C and a date with LCK Summer Split champions Longzhu Gaming. It was supposed to be a one-sided affair, with Longzhu quickly showing an overly-patient SSG the door.
Instead, Samsung swept Longzhu out of Worlds, setting the tone in Game 1 with a masterclass from Ambition. The veteran jungler looked nothing like the passive non-factor from group play, attacking lanes early and often as Sejuani, making the Longzhu solo-laners very uncomfortable. CuVee stifled Khan topside, countering his trademark Jax with a pocket Kennen pick, and Crown overcame BDD after a rocky start in lane, exposing the LCK Summer Split MVP for the youngster he was. Once Crown’s Malzahar escaped the early game, his roaming Nether Grasp threat prevented Khan from splitting, effectively pinning the 1v1 impresario to his team.
Longzhu never righted the ship, finally finding a stage too big for their rising stars, and Samsung emerged as new favorites for the title.
4. Team SoloMid v Flash Wolves – Game 1
If the play-ins weren’t proof enough that great games can come from mediocre teams, I give you Team SoloMid versus Flash Wolves. It was an instant classic that ultimately had no impact on the rest of the tournament, a battle of two statistically awful sides that dramatically underachieved on the world stage.
Resuming their feud from MSI 2017, TSM and Flash Wolves each came to Worlds baring their respective region’s top seed, then proceeded to shame their fans. TSM would fail to advance from the easiest Worlds group draw they’d ever received, and Flash Wolves ended their tournament 1-5 (beating only TSM, of course).
This game was lone consolation their fanbases got: A 50-minute street fight that left Doublelift shaking once the nexus had fallen. Brother Svenskeren returned to TSM at the worst possible time, yet even with a feeding jungler and two inhibitors down, Flash Wolves couldn’t close the deal.
For all the accolades Maple and Karsa have garnered over the years, to let this game (and four others) slip away was unconscionable. This loss marked a tournament low point for the LMS, and, when combined with the region’s overall subpar performance, made me question their major region status. I’m sure I’m not alone.
3. Misfits Gaming v SK Telecom T1 – Game 3
Misfits Gaming took SK Telecom T1 the distance in a five-game series that will go down as the best of Worlds 2017, and maybe one of the best series ever.
Unheralded and overlooked for most of the tournament, Misfits emerged from Group D after eliminating Team SoloMid in a tiebreaker for second place. They were then immediately predicted to be swept in the quarterfinals once SKT were drawn as their opponent.
That…didn’t happen, to say the least.
Utilizing creative drafting strategies that SKT would later shamelessly emulate (Yasuo top, Karma mid, Blitzcrank, Fervor Leona), Misfits surprised the Korean giants and took Guangzhou by storm. IgNar’s Level 1 Leona play in this game is the stuff of legends; I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s in SKT colors come Spring Split. Hans sama took advantage of his support’s aggression, steamrolling SKT’s turrets at a clip the defending champs couldn’t match. Oh, and keep an eye on Maxlore, because Blank didn’t.
Game 3 was a performance for the ages, earning Misfits a 2-1 series lead and two shots at match point. But Faker wouldn’t let his team fail, carrying SKT into the semifinals and breaking neutral hearts. Still, Misfits’ unprecedented success remains the clearest sign that the gap might be closing. Please let it be closing.
2. SK Telecom T1 vs Samsung Galaxy – Game 3
The game that brought down a dynasty and crowned a new ruler through collective ambition. Samsung Galaxy completed their second sweep of a Korean team in a heart-pounding Game 3, avenging their loss to SK Telecom T1 in the Worlds 2016 finals.
I’ve already written about this series, the mistakes made by SKT and the heroics from Ruler and Ambition that catapulted Samsung across the finish line. Zirene has an excellent Breakdown that brilliantly encapsulates how close the final fight was. Everyone, go watch it. You won’t believe how likely a Game 4 was, and maybe the beginning of a reverse sweep.
I’m not sure what’s in store for either of these teams come 2018. There’s wide speculation that SKT will drop everyone but Faker and rebuild around God (not the worst idea), freeing several world-class players to be overpaid in North America. Ambition has reached the mountaintop; now 25 and married, it might be time step away.
But one thing is certain: With performances like Game 3, Samsung left no doubt—the best team in the world won Worlds 2017.
1. Gigabyte Marines vs. Fnatic – Game 1
As a new writer for a game few people in my life understand, I’ve recently found myself explaining what’s so great about League of Legends. Why do I spend my time breaking down a computer game? Why do so many people around the world love it with a passion usually reserved for “real” sports teams? How is there a viable professional ecosystem around something so niche, so nerdy?
In response, I tell them about this game, a Group B match between Gigabyte Marines and Fnatic. I rhapsodize about the gutty Vietnamese team that doesn’t give a damn about a global meta or your expectations. A team that is so utterly themselves that even if other orgs tried to emulate them, they’d never get the balance right. A team that understands who they are, what they can do, and how best to achieve victory within those narrow parameters. It doesn’t matter if you’re the Kings of Europe or the LCK champions; Gigabyte Marines are coming for you.
I cover this sport because of games like this, the ones that transcend the medium and have you screaming like a small child. If you’ve never seen this game, I envy what you’re about to experience. No one, certainly not Fnatic, saw this particular gameplan coming. Just know that, despite the ensuing chaos which unfolds across Summoner's Rift, everything GAM does in this match is calculated and practiced. Such a strategy can only work once, but when it does, get the popcorn, sit back, and enjoy.